The bus was crowded this morning. It was a sign that schools all over the city are opening. Children are visiting classrooms or attending their first day – for some it is their first time ever attending school. The buzz on the bus was definitely one of excitement. Friends were greeting one another, parents were reacquainting themselves with other parents. There is a dual language school on the route so conversations were happening in French, Spanish and English. The bus driver was telling us to “move on back”, just like the song “Wheels on the Bus”! It was an interesting commute to school.
There were some also anxious feelings. I observed one elementary student in tears trying to explain something to her mother while her mother was conversing with someone else on guess what? Yes, her cellphone. There are better ways to help an upset child rather than give the strong message that the person on the cell phone is more important than the child. But that is another topic.
At Twin Parks Montessori School we offer parents multiple opportunities to learn more about first days of school, what separation will be like, and how we conduct phase-in for new students. Phase-In refers to the initial time period of transition for children as they begin to attend school. During this time children become familiar with the new environment, new people and new routines. The key to a successful phase-in process is that it’s done gradually. It may begin with you and your child spending an hour in the classroom and gradually working up to the full work cycle, lunch, rest and then the full day. Teachers observe the children carefully to see what interests they have and remind them of the activity the next day. Building connections early is essential.
Depending on the age of the child, the phase-in process will differ. Babies sense the warmth and caring emanating from other adults and feel content when their needs are met. Young toddlers are experiencing a newfound sense of independence and are learning that they are not a physical part of their parents. Object permanence is a lesson that is not fully mastered at this age. Toddlers do not have a sense of time to know their parent will come back after rest or at the end of the workday. Children who are in the 3-6-age range are eager to try new things, meet new friends and discover how things work. Their acclimation often takes a short amount of time.
At Twin Parks Montessori School, we phase-in children slowly and follow the child’s lead and comfort level. Parents are notified that phase-in may take two weeks or longer. Teachers make home visits for babies and toddlers to become familiar with the physical space the child lives in. Attention is paid to noise level, feeding schedule, lighting in the room when the child sleeps. It is also helpful for the child to see the teachers for the first time in their own home with their parents and get the sense that teachers are friends.
For all children, returning and new, we email a picture of the teaching team. It helps to learn names and faces before school begins. One parent shared that they framed the teachers’ picture and each night the child said goodnight to teachers before going to sleep.
A few key tips for successful separation:
- Walk by the school before the school year starts so your child becomes familiar with the route and hears the words, “your school”.
- Schedule some down time before school begins, family time to be together taking walks, reading books, playing together will help ensure your child is well-rested and ready for a new beginning.
- Tell a personal, positive story about your experience in school.
- Be positive; your child can sense your own separation anxieties; if you’re enthusiastic, your child will be too.
- Read books about school when you’re home.
- If your child cries, remain calm. Instead of saying, “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” or, “There’s no reason to cry.” It’s best to address your child in a positive way: “It’s okay to be afraid. Your teachers will take care of you.”
- Never sneak out or “slip away.” Tell your child that you’re leaving the classroom. Make sure you are consistent and give one quick goodbye, each time you leave.
- When you leave, tell your child where you’re going, when you’ll be coming back, and what you’ll be doing. Please follow the teacher’s instructions on when to come back, when to leave, etc.
- Do not ask your child for permission to leave the classroom. For example, “Is it okay if I go now?” This can be confusing to your child. Be matter of fact instead.
- Please trust that we will comfort your child when you leave and that your child is safe.
You and your child are not alone in experiencing some trepidation. The first days of school are exciting and full of unknowns for everyone, children, parents, teachers, and administration. Teachers have told me they pick out their clothes the night before, have their bag all ready to go, and still they lose sleep thinking about the first day of school! You are in great company!